Monday, January 21, 2008

In Praise of Wendell Berry, the Original Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan has become unavoidable and it's hard to argue that that's a bad thing. Here he is being interviewed by a Times blogger, and here he is being interviewed by a blogger for Gourmet. And here is In Defense of Food, the book he calls "An Eater's Manifesto," at number 1, top of the pops, on the Times best seller list.

With Pollan getting ink by the barrel and pixels by the billions, Gourmet, in its print edition only, does us the enormous favor of reminding us that before Michael Pollan there was Wendell Berry, who, as an essayist, poet, writer of really good novels, and farmer, has bona fides that Pollan doesn't (not that Pollan claims to have them). Here's an excerpt from Gourmet's story about Berry, which was written by John T. Edge:

... Berry has argued tirelessly for independent communities, small family farms, and local foods. His outlook marries agrarian and environmental ideologies, but he doesn't settle for either. A traditional agrarian values small farms and argues that they are essential to the politcal and social well-being of the nation; Berry claims they are key to our ecological health. Environmentalists often concern themselves with the against-all-odds protetion of wilderness; Berry believes land was meant to be worked by man.

While I'm sure that's not all he believes about land, it's an important point, and what Berry means by it is that land was meant to be worked by man and not by machines, namely huge grain combines. Small is beautiful.

I have a notebook in which I used to jot down quotations from things I was reading. Here are a few from Berry:

You can best serve civilization by being against what usually passes for it.

The Appalachian Group to Save the Land and the People ... What impressed me was the complexity of purpose announced in its name: it proposed to save the land and the people. This seems to me still an inescapable necessity. You really cannot specialize the work of conservation. You cannot save the land apart from the people or the people apart from the land. To save either, you must save both.

Good cooking must be said to begin with good farming.

We have these Wendell Berry books on our shelves: The Gift of Good Land; What Are People For?; A Continuous Harmony; Recollected Essays; Home Economics; Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community; and In the Presence of Fear (all books of essay); and Fidelity: Five Stories; A Place on Earth; The Wild Birds; and Nathan Coulter, all fiction.

Praising Berry doesn't diminish Pollan -- in fact Pollan acknowledges Berry as one of his inspirations. He's well worth checking out.

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Blogger Wendy Berrell said...

Good note here. You should add to your biblio his collection of poetry called "Given." It is a remarkable work.

See some of it here, and by searching around on my blog:

9:17 AM  

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